Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s ideology shift was not enough to surpass Liberals

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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole moved her party back to the ideological center of Canadian politics in 2021, making the shift a major selling point during the five-week election campaign.

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But this was not enough to win Canada’s 44th general election as Justin Trudeau’s liberals were projected to form the next government.

While Mr O’Toole’s reinstatement of the Conservatives resulted in some gains, with only a handful of additional seats projected, his party was prepared to place Mr Trudeau’s Liberals in another minority government.

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The Conservatives secured seats in Atlantic Canada on Monday night but did not make a significant dent in Liberal fortunes in vote-rich Ontario, after a race in which Mr O’Toole had a strong start, then got into trouble over weapons of attack. Gone and take your approach to fighting COVID-19.

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The party nevertheless managed to defeat the two incumbent Liberal cabinet ministers. In Nova Scotia, he overtook Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan; In Peterborough, Ont., she brought down Mary Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality and rural economic development.

Mr. O’Toole casts himself as a 21st-century conservative, describing himself as a pro-choice and an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. He promised to put a price on carbon as part of the fight against climate change – an idea previously opposed by the Conservatives – and the possibility of provinces and territories holding a liberal carbon tax if the Conservatives were to form a government. be open to

He also backfired during the campaign on assault weapons, saying he would uphold the ban on these firearms created by the Liberals in May 2020, following a forum promise to repeal the ban.

As Liberal pundit David Herrell observed during the race, Mr O’Toole ran the first Confederate Progressive Conservative-style campaign in more than 20 years since former PC leader Joe Clarke in 2000.

Just days before the election, Mr O’Toole appeared to make this official as he went even further to distance himself from his predecessors Andrew Shearer and Stephen Harper. He brought former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to a campaign rally and garnered his support. Mr Harper was a member of the Reform Party, which helped bring down the Progressive Conservatives and created a political party that eventually merged with and joined the PC.

“My priority has been to build a conservative movement where every Canadian can feel at home. Inclusive, diverse, forward-looking, progressive, worker-friendly,” Mr. O’Toole told Mr. Mulroney’s at a campaign stop in Saguenay, Ky., last week. Said with

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“We are no longer your father’s Conservative party.”

As Canadians voted on Monday, it remains to be seen whether these ideological changes will become a durable feature of the Conservative Party going forward or remain up for debate as the party regroups after its electoral defeat.

Scott Reid, former communications director to Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, said Mr O’Toole’s Conservatives walked out of the gate during the campaign but were grappling with the response to the pandemic. “He had a great first act,” he said. Two factors that will be debated in the coming days are the Conservative Party’s reluctance to require COVID vaccinations for all of its candidates and the failure of Conservative Jason Kenney, as Premier of Alberta, to contain the pandemic in his province. “They took a giant gamble they could compete in an election campaign during the fourth wave and were able to make it about anything other than the pandemic and it turned out to be wrong.”

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt said Mr O’Toole ran a successful campaign, coming from behind initially and running closer than first expected. “He provided a positive leader to get people to the door. So you weren’t getting the news that ‘Oh, Harper is so scary or Sheer is so scary.’ Erin wasn’t scary. “

But the challenge ahead is opposition within the party to replace Mr. O’Toole.

For example, the right-wing People’s Part of Canada threatened to snatch support from the Conservative Party in this election. PPC leader Maxime Bernier, who came second in the 2017 campaign for the Conservative leadership, left after accusing the Tories of abandoning their “core conservative principles”.

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Duane Bratt, professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Mr O’Toole’s problem is that there is opposition to some of his policy changes within his party. “If he doesn’t win, or at least draws it closer, do we see the controversy boil over later?”

Mr O’Toole, who won the leadership more than a year ago in August 2020, had to face an uphill battle in reconnecting with the Canadians, running against Prime Minister Trudeau and Pierre Trudeau’s son for nearly six years. faced. He grew up in the public spotlight.

The Conservatives spent the last weekend of the campaign largely on crime, traveling in six southern Ontario ridings – three whose incumbents are cabinet ministers.

The Tories were seeking to expand their base. Under former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, the party won 34 percent of the vote in the 2019 election, compared to 33 percent for the Liberals. However, they won fewer seats: 121 seats compared to 157 for the Liberals.

Mr O’Toole acknowledged shortcomings in a variety of areas, including a credible environmental policy, access to cultural communities and engaging with unions and working Canadians. In addition, he has downplayed the social-conservative aspects of the party, shunned pro-choice beliefs and pledged to act on issues of interest to the LGBTQ+ community.

He campaigned as “The Man with the Plan”—a line of text on the cover of Canada’s recovery plan, the party platform he took to stump speeches across the country, and as evidence of his commitment to change. waved.

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He committed to eliminating the deficit, but said it would take a decade, and has said he would maintain current federal spending commitments for public programs in 2021-22. That means standing up to the first year of a $30 billion child-care program enacted by the Liberals, and negotiating agreements with eight provinces.

Ian Brody, who served as Mr. Harper’s chief of staff and is now a political scientist at the University of Calgary, described a complex dynamic for the Conservatives.

“The conservative coalition remains difficult,” he said in an e-mail. “COVID has radicalized the liberal and anti-establishment wing, making it difficult to integrate them with the mainstream of society.

“Fiscal issues are creeping back in view of the shaky finances of the federal government. And as baby boomers age, they are becoming more at-risk and more dependent on government for the benefit of liberals. Whereas young voters have woken up to what the party really wants to be. “

With a report from Christie Kirkup in Montreal

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